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Karl: Hi, Ram. I am sorry I did not reply to your message earlier, it has been many weeks now. I am very thankful that you took the time to answer my questions and give explanations. It’s amazing to be able to receive tailored comments. Your words have definitely brought more confidence in the teachings. It is not always easy, because ignorance is deeply embedded and at first one doesn’t know at all how it is formulated. As time goes, bits of ignorance are recognized for what they are and progress is seen. I guess we could say grace acts somehow through our conditioning to give us some understanding. We don’t have control over it…
I have read your book multiple times as well as watched your Self Inquiry DVD set many times. I am totally hooked. Not a day will pass by where I don’t read some Vedanta. I guess we can say I have a love-of-knowledge value and it’s been growing even more lately. I am giving up without much hurt worldly activities to stay at home in solitude and read your website and related topics. I realize though that as clear as is the understanding is when I read your words, the impact tends to dissipate when contact with the teaching is undone. Is this to be expected? I feel like I have to expose my mind to the theory day in and day out and re-listen to parts I have heard about 50 times.
James: It depends on how identified you are with Karl, the experiencing entity. The short answer, however, is yes. It takes time to assimilate the understanding “I am awareness.”
Karl: Below are some parts of our previous email discussion, where new questions arose. Further down are other topics we did not discuss in our original conversation.
James (from a previous email): Dispassion comes from analyzing the defects in objects. When you are really certain that there is nothing in the world, then you become indifferent to them. If you are dispassionate you don’t really need karma yoga, because you will be indifferent to whether you get what you want or not.
Karl: There are some circumstances where I can definitely say that there is nothing there. But there is still a part of me which believes certain experiences will bring pleasure. I can definitely see what you are getting at though. I have observed certain events that happened to me recently and it is becoming quite obvious that there is no lasting solution. Even the most stimulating and beautiful experiences are gone in a flash. You want them back, so that makes you suffer. What is the point in going through this painful process? Better to just avoid this mess altogether!?
James: If you are willing to take the bitter with the sweet without whining, no need to avoid anything in samsara. In my case I am not willing to suffer the hangover from the high, so I think things through first, and unless it is a definite win/win, I don’t do it.
Karl: But still, if you take a beautiful trip to the mountains and feel the peace, there is something there, isn’t it? You say there is nothing substantial anywhere? So you stop planning trips to the mountains altogether?
James: No. You recognize that the joy is coming from you, not the mountains. You see that they are a catalyst, a symbol, that puts you in touch with your true nature.
Karl: Or you still go and enjoy your time there, and since you value change you are okay when it ends?
James: That’s one way to look at it. Change is just a fact in samsara. If there was no joy, then joy came, the joy will go. There is nothing you can do about it except understand that joy is your nature. Once this is clear you can be as happy in the city as you are in the mountains because you are never not the self.
James: (from a previous email) The Bhagavad Gita says a wise person follows his or her nature. You are the spiritual/artistic type and the work you do is not in harmony with your nature. So this one of the major sources of inner conflict. It is endemic to materialistic societies where physical security comes first. It’s not your fault. It is your mom and dad’s values that put you there. I know; I went through it myself.
Karl: Yes, it’s my parents values that put me there, not my own. I am not sure I see the need to change all of it anymore though. What will I really benefit from it, if the world can’t deliver lasting happiness anyways?
James: Your parents’ values became your values. Everything comes from outside, from maya. You are right, there is no need to change anything. On the level of Karl, there will always be values of one sort or another. However, certain values reflect and express your true nature and others don’t. So once you become aware of your conditioning you can set out to drop those values that conflict with your nature.
Karl: Planning a change of career is just a statement that you want something else than what you got. It’s still based on the assumption that the world will satisfy you. Yes, I may be better off in another field, but I am able to do my spiritual work with the current set-up, so why trouble my mind with all of it? Lately I have seen my work as a kind of contribution to the total and that’s all there is to it. I have no expectations and I am not trying to gain anything else from it. The only thing that bugs me is that when I have to work more than the usual hours (say, 12 hours a day), I sacrifice quality alone time to where I can’t really make spiritual progress.
James: This is the correct attitude, karma yoga. It is wise.
James (from a previous email): Life really is a zero-sum game, Karl. You cannot win here. You get joy and sorrow, not always in equal measure. In fact it seems that you are getting a lot more sorrow than joy. But it is good because it has led you to Vedanta.
Karl: Yes, suffering is quite good in a way. If I hadn’t suffered enough I would still be trying to devise a solution in samsara. Now that I am practicing knowledge, suffering has been reduced to a minimum. If you know you are in a dream, do you take what’s happening in it seriously? Yet that’s what everybody does. Getting upset about even the smallest details…
James: Self inquiry, the application of self-knowledge, destroys suffering. If this is your experience, you are definitely on the right track.
James (from a previous email): You have some good qualities and some bad qualities. You are actually beyond them all, but you seem to want to identify with the downside rather than the upside. Why not be fair?
Karl: Obviously I am beyond them all but can’t still fully grasp it. You are quite right, I have been judging myself unfairly in the past. I had the idea in my mind that the limited person I am had to be perfect… which is actually impossible. Since I got your email, I have started to understand that I am quite okay as I am. Vedanta gives me a lot of confidence, actually.
James: Good! You can never make what is imperfect perfect. You can only see that you are perfect as you are, both as the self and as Karl. Nothing can be done about anything apart from striving to understand.
James (from a previous email): So while it does not seem like it, you are actually in a better place because you will have your whole life to enjoy once you crack the code – which you will do.
Karl: That put a smile on my face. Yes, I believe I am making rapid progress and will crack the code before long. Vedanta just makes so much sense.
James: Yes, you are right on track. Stick with it.
James (from a previous email): No, for God’s sake, don’t give up your music. Stick with it. It is what you really like. Just make your music, forget about all the results and let things unfold naturally.
Karl: I have adopted that attitude since you wrote that and it has been really helpful. I actually don’t mind anymore what will happen. I have worried and had such high hopes. It was exhausting. We are working on the songs and making progress, but I know that if tomorrow it ends, I will still be okay. It’s not a matter of life or death. My interest in Vedanta has become the top priority in the past few months.
James: Hope is a useless emotion. It means that you are not satisfied with yourself.
Karl: Ram, I still have a few questions, if you don’t mind…
In your Gospel of Love you say: “The path of devotion is meant for those who respond emotionally to the world.”
Listening and reading various of your materials, I am getting conflicting ideas about bhakti. Please confirm my understanding. Devotion is not a path per se; the traditional paths are action and renunciation. BUT bhakti yoga is a necessary part of the three yogas, in order to prepare the mind for self-realization.
James: Yes, bhakti is common to all endeavors. There is no bhakti yoga, strictly speaking. But if self-knowledge converts emotions centered around samsaric preoccupations into devotion to the truth, you can call it bhakti yoga.
Karl: Another question about bhakti: my understanding is that bhakti redirects a person’s feelings away from objects and to the source; what if you just don’t have very many feelings?
James: Consider yourself lucky. You have a feeling, a passion, for truth, and that is the highest form of bhakti.
Karl: As a very intellectual, logical and overly analytical person, I never felt I had many feelings. I have worked overtime (partly with therapy) to recognize my feelings and take them into consideration. I am still like 90% logical and 10% emotional. I will sometimes have emotional impulses about certain circumstances or people, but that’s only the minority of my waking state.
James: Again, consider yourself lucky. I am about 99% logical – and proud of it.
Karl: I still understand the importance of this practice and I obviously find myself at the first stage, guna bhakti. I was raised in a society that was mostly atheist, and nowadays people take pride not to believe in God. Obviously, I was not taught about religion and I never sought God. Now I want to practice bhakti but all this is new to me.
James: Self-inquiry and karma yoga are the highest form of bhakti. You have both in place. It is foolish to go against your programming. If you are a brain like me, you have a leg-up on the rest of the world. Only sentimental people value feelings over understanding.
Karl: I am passionate about music and nature. Both are great symbols of the self, I think, and I should probably be able to work on my devotion using related symbols. I have hung up beautiful mountain pictures that I have taken recently and send my love and appreciation to the Creator for such immense beauty. But it feels like I have to consciously think, “Okay, now I have to contemplate this mountain and see it as the self.” Isn’t that too analytical?
James: Yes. The fact that you hang it up is bhakti. It means you appreciate the beauty already. No need to make a big story of it.
Karl: My other symbol is music, which I interpret as the voice of God. I am very attached to some melodies and they generate a large amount of bliss when I listen to them.
James: Follow the bliss.
Karl: About meditation: at first I skipped that section of your book because the three yogas need to be in place in order for meditation to work. After a while, I realized there may be no point in waiting in my case. First of all, I have been practicing simple living for many years. I have stayed away from the TV and most media, so I just don’t feel like running around like most people. I never wanted to be a part of the rat race. This is not to say that I don’t have desires though (obviously). One of them is actually explained at the end of this letter, but it’s pretty much the only binding one that is left.
James: Meditation is fine. You seem to be pretty squared away on the essential issues.
Karl: The karma yoga view has reduced dramatically the naggy, needy voice inside of me. My wants were a heavy burden I carried around with me. I would say most of my suffering was coming from the fact that I did not have what I want in life. And trying to get the right career and the beautiful girls was tormenting me day and night. Giving up those desires to have the best in life freed me in a major way. Since I gave those up, I really feel like I don’t have much to attain in life; I just don’t have that many vasanas for external objects. My mind isn’t constantly throwing up ideas about desires and fears. When it does, I tell it with dispassion that it’s not going to be worth it to pursue whatever it is talking about. Is this laziness or dispassion? A bit of both, I guess.
James: This is the practice of knowledge and it results in dispassion. If dispassion makes you lazy, consider yourself lucky. There is nothing to get here. Enjoy yourself.
Karl: I have been practicing meditation as a means of relaxation for a couple of years now, but it is your book that really revealed the purpose of meditation. I have read the chapter on meditation many times now. There is a part I still don’t get. I know of a great technique that allows me to gradually relax every part of the body and it is extremely effective. After the whole body has been scanned meticulously, a great sense of comfort, well-being and peace floods every cell. Right after that, I try to follow your instructions. I bring my attention to the breath and follow it with my mind. But I realize I actually don’t understand what you mean by “the mind riding on the breath.” You say as the breath flows out, the attention should go out. Do you mean to become aware and lock the mind on the space outside the body? And then, when the breath flows in, the attention should go back to the inner energy field of the body?
James: No, lock the mind on the breath on the mind as it flows in and out. It is just a trick to get the mind calm. If you can feel the silence after the scanning, you can lock the mind on the silence and skip the breath.
Karl: After that part, I can sit there and listen to the silence for a while, but there is nothing happening. Shouldn’t there be some kind of understanding taking place during that stage?
James: See if you can figure out how the silence is known.
Karl: A quick note about “The Now” teachings: I have read many of Eckhart Tolle’s works and found them to be of a great help, at first. Like you say, it is entry-level in a way. Actually, Mr. Tolle’s work is quite interesting, even though incomplete. The cornerstone of Tolle’s message is accepting what is. This is actually what karma yoga teaches on the back end.
James: Does he explain why you should accept what is?
Karl: The problem with Tolle is that there is no real methodology and there is practically no jnana yoga. Therefore it clearly won’t get very many people to recognize the self, if at all.
James: Yes. It is entry-level stuff. It is good, but without a proven methodology and the right qualifications it will only kick-start the search at best. None of the modern guys teach qualifications and most of the karma yoga is secular karma yoga. It is okay, but it is not the whole enchilada.
Karl: You say very often you are using scripture to remove self-ignorance. In your videos and in the book there are not very many direct references to such texts. Could it be that the whole book and methodology is directly taken from scripture, even if you don’t cite your references and it’s done transparently?
James: Yes. Most Western people don’t care for scripture and it does not really matter – if they are qualified for Vedanta. Vedanta is just a methodology and it works whether or not you know what it is. So if you can pay attention and listen, it will do its job. No need to talk about it.
Karl: Getting rid of a strong vasana: finally, I would like your advice on a matter that is troubling me. I have a binding sex vasana that I have been trying to get rid of in vain. I feel obliged to act it out. I am ashamed. The downside of it is very minimal, expect that I notice my mind becoming dull afterwards and lust is a clear violation of dharma. I have burnt many vasanas (desire for relationship, cigarettes, etc.) but sex is a tough one, believe me.
As the self, no vasana needs to be eliminated, right? But as the person that I think I am, this activity agitates my mind and takes it off the self. I suppose in that case it would be better to remove it, but how!?
James: If there is very little downside, why bother? Vedanta seems to be working for you very well. Once you get more deeply established in the self, it will drop off on its own. Don’t make an issue out of it. Sin intelligently.
Karl: Thank you so much for your time and words of wisdom, Ram, it means a lot.
James: You are welcome, Karl.